'Trust' is key word in city transportation plan

Promises that are kept carry a lot of weight with voters, especially when those voters are called upon to extend a tax increase to pay for vital government services. In the past seven years, residents of Cape Girardeau have come to appreciate and rely on the city's Transportation Trust Fund and the $20 million of street improvements that have been made.

It started when voters in 1995 approved a half-cent increase in the city's sales tax. Revenue from the tax was earmarked for a list of high-priority street and bridge projects. Voters were told how much revenue the new tax would likely produce, and they were told specifically what projects -- and in what order -- would be completed. Voters also were told the projects would be done as revenue from the new sales tax became available. This meant if retail sales slowed down and produced less revenue than expected, street work also would slow down. And if more money than expected came in, the pace would speed up.

There was one other critical component to that 1995 sales-tax proposal: The tax would expire after five years. It would be up to voters to decide if the Transportation Trust Fund was producing the intended results, and voters would have to vote again to keep the program going.

As it turned out, voters in 2000 liked what they saw of the first five years of the Transportation Trust Fund, and they strongly backed continuing the special sales tax for another five years.

The result of the city's earnest efforts to stick to the plan residents had approved -- plus the improvements that made driving around town better for just about everyone -- have produced a high level of confidence in the overall street program.

The results can be found all over town. In 1995, the city had more than two miles of unpaved streets. Today there are none. Many streets have received new surfacing through an ambitious overlay program. Bridges have been built. Broadway has been widened from Clark Street to Perry Avenue. Bloomfield Road has been improved on the west side of Interstate 55. Siemers Drive through the growing commercial area between Bloomfield and William Street has been widened to four lanes. Hopper Road has been realigned.

It's a long list of improvements, and all the work still isn't completed. All but three of the projects planned for the first five-year plan have been completed, and those are ready to be finished. The second five-year plan includes another set of projects. So far, the city has accurately estimated the cost of the first plan's projects and expects to wind up about 1 percent below the original projections.

It won't be long before 2005 rolls around and the city will be asking voters to approve a third set of projects to be funded by extending the street sales tax another five years. Identifying those projects will get under way in 2004. If the program continues to be as successful as the first seven years, voters will have good reason to give their support.